Recollections of Emanuel Ax in recital at the McCarter

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

The legendary pianist Emanuel Ax presented works by Brahms, Benjamin, Schumann, Ravel, and Chopin at his Monday, April 22nd, recital at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre Center.


Originally, the florescent Mitsouko Uchida was scheduled to bedazzle us with her lambent splendor, but like a tulip profusely blooming elsewhere, she drooped to exhaustion, and cancelled.  Thanks to the strike by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (as we were told by William W. Lockwood, Jr., in his seraphic introduction), Emanuel Ax became free from his commitment, so as to appear this evening. Already, Divine Agency was in the works. For some of us, we have seen Mr. Ax only a handful of times over the past forty-seven years, so it was with especial delight we arrived this night at the Matthews Theatre. 


Emanuel Ax did not disappoint. From the very first chords of Johannes Brahms’ (1833-1897) The Rhapsodies, Op. 79, the painted veil of the mundane was swept aside. The Steinway under his dominance snatched us up into the clouds. Piano Figures by George Benjamin (1960-   ) followed. These short pieces (ten, each lasting only a few minutes, we were informed by Mr. Ax speaking with the aid of a microphone) were redolent of Maurice Ravel to several ears.


It is here that an amusing tale must be told. During the interval, a business sort and his female companion apparently ran into an academic sort. The business sort loudly declaimed how he didn’t get the Franklin piece. The academic asked if he meant the Benjamin. The business sort replied that yes, that’s right, and that proved the academic knew his beans.


Continuing with the program, Robert Schumann’s (1810-1856) Fantasiestucke, Op. 12, overtook our senses. According to the perspicacious program notes by David Wright, this piece is rarely performed in its entirety, with him putting in print that the eight works were “a bouquet.” An intoxicating bouquet it was.


The second half of the program saw the house lights at the Matthews still brightly lit. One had to ask the question, why? It remains distracting. Muses Nine, please enlighten the movers and shakers at the McCarter that it is a theatre, not a shopping mall. If not, we will need to wear broad-brimmed Stetsons and sunglasses the next time. Thankfully, we were also thrilled by Valses nobles et sentimentales by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937).


Completing the scheduled program were two works by Frederic Chopin (1810-1849). Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, No. 1 called forth our youth, dimmed by years of fibrous tissue, to burst free. Unarmed, we were totally unguarded when Mr. Ax launched into the sublime, the incredible, Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante in E-flat Major, Op. 22. Our souls sprang from our chairs, arms outstretched to Heaven, with only our Guardian Angels keeping us from flying away from the Earth. Our Angels’ taut, muscular bodies encompassed us, keeping our souls from splitting from our bodies. We were Greta Garbo, wearing silk stockings by a roaring fire innocently seducing John Gilbert one moment, then Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express another. As the magic of the masterpiece by Chopin continued, we were being carried by a glistening, wet, naked Saint Christopher to safety across the stormy abyss of bliss amid our pulsating ecstasies. Applause reanimated us to our flesh.

But wait, there was an encore. Mr. Ax shyly, slyly asked if he might try out a piece he’s only been practicing, Schumann’s Arabeske in C major, Op. 18. Acclaim poured from the audience, eventually causing Mr. Ax to wave goodbye and shamble off the stage leaving us exalted and curiously bereft, in much the same way hours of intense sexual pleasure always had to come to a conclusion, with lovers returning to their spouses, lovers, families, or rectories.


The McCarter Theatre Center’s Season continues with a variety of presentations. Also, their 2019-2020 Season has just been announced. For more information, visit their website, .









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